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USAC bylaw amendment places restrictions on future stipend increases

By amanda schallert

Feb. 5, 2014 1:08 a.m.

Six months after raising their own monthly stipends, undergraduate student government officials unanimously passed a bylaw amendment Tuesday to bar future salary changes from taking immediate effect.

In August, the Undergraduate Students Association Council raised councilmember stipends from $355 to $672 with an 8-1-0 vote. The decision also raised stipend caps for some other members of USAC and student group leaders and tied USAC stipends to the minimum wage.

Tuesday night’s amendment prevents any future policies that would change councilmembers’ compensation from going into effect until after a new council is elected.

USAC President John Joanino said at Tuesday’s meeting that the goal of the amendment was to prevent future outrage from students who voiced concern that the decision constituted a conflict of interest.

“The goal wasn’t to tie anyone’s hands, it was to protect future councils,” Joanino said.

Joanino said he thinks the council’s initial decision was justified because some students may not have been able to serve in USAC this school year because of financial problems. He added that he thinks USAC needed to address the issue immediately, especially since previous councils did not.

“This is a long-stemming problem that comes from a history of people not addressing the issue,” Joanino said.

Nicole Fossier, an executive board member for Bruin Alliance and an Internal Vice President’s Office student group liaison, helped draft the amendment. Fossier, who had been vocal about her opposition to the councilmembers’ initial decision, worked with a group of students in the Internal Vice President’s Office on the proposal.

Fossier said she wrote the bylaw amendment because she thinks the councilmembers engaged in a conflict of interest by raising their own pay.

Fossier added that she disagreed with the decision for an immediate stipend increase partially because some student groups on campus have struggled to find funding for their programs this year. She said she would not have opposed the stipend increase if the decision had taken place during the school year when more students are on campus, and if it had not taken effect until next school year.

Councilmembers increased their own stipends after USAC administrative representatives brought the idea to them and consistently advocated for the change.

Some councilmembers said that low stipends could make serving on USAC unfeasible for students who struggle to support themselves financially, and that having a higher salary would allow students to spend less time on outside jobs and more time on their USAC initiatives.

The money that paid for the stipend increase came from mandatory student fees. When distributing USAC funds, money for councilmember stipends and other administrative costs are taken out of the budget before other allocations.

The money left after these costs are covered goes to student groups and USAC office funding, which covers other USAC staff member stipends. Some USAC staff members did not see their stipends increase after the council’s decision, and others do not receive them at all.

As a result of the stipend increase, the USAC Student Organizations Operational Fund lost about $35,000 this year. The fund supports student groups by paying for supplies, retreats and advertising materials, among other expenses.

More student groups than normal applied for money from the fund, which is typically underutilized. Because of the higher demand and the smaller pool of funds, average allocations to USAC groups dropped by more than $100 in fall.

On Nov. 26, several student group leaders presented a letter to USAC asking councilmembers to reverse their vote on stipends and return the money to student groups. The students, including Fossier, said the stipend increase decision constituted a conflict of interest and asked USAC to amend its bylaws to prevent any future immediate stipend increases.

Fossier said she thinks the bylaw amendment is a first step to remedy the stipend increase decision.

She added that she and other Bruin Alliance members plan to keep pushing for USAC to reverse its initial stipend increase decision so money that would fund the increase for the rest of the year can instead go to student groups.

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